FOXBORO, Mass. — Bailey Zappe won’t be the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback this Sunday. But he’ll be one play away from seeing the first regular-season action of his young NFL career.
With veteran Brian Hoyer set to start in place of the injured Mac Jones, Zappe will be the Patriots’ top backup QB in their Week 4 matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
A healthy scratch in each of the first three games, the fourth-round rookie will be active on gameday for the first time. Though the Patriots hope he does nothing but hold a clipboard, he’ll need to be ready to sub in for Hoyer at a moment’s notice in the event of injury or poor performance.
Though his role on Sunday will change significantly, Zappe said his approach in practice this week was “no different.”
“For me, I’m just trying to continue to get better every day, like every other week,” the 23-year-old said after Friday’s practice. “I’m attacking practice like I have the past three weeks, and I’m trying to really just get better every day.”
A record-setting collegiate passer in Western Kentucky’s Air Raid offense, Zappe saw substantial reps in training camp and the preseason, running the second team for a spell while Hoyer was sidelined with an illness and playing the most snaps of any Patriots quarterback across the team’s three exhibition games. He showed good arm strength and noticeable improvement over the course of the summer but inconsistent accuracy and decision-making, throwing an interception in each preseason appearance.
All told, Zappe completed 63.4% of his passes during the preseason, throwing for 462 yards (6.5 per attempt) and one touchdown with three picks and a passer rating of 69.1.
“Of course, there’s more comfort (now),” Zappe said. “It’s been, what, six, seven months now? There’s a lot of things that I’ve still got to get better at, still got to learn, and trying to get better every day is kind of my mindset about everything.”
Quarterbacks coach Joe Judge earlier this week said he’s “very pleased with how Bailey’s working.”
“He’s done a really good job, mentally and physically, of progressing from the spring when we got him,” Judge said. “He’s very, very engaged. He’s done a great job on the sideline with us now, whether it’s the home or the away games, just sitting there and being engaged in the play, and then communicating throughout the game with things he’s seeing. Or, if a problem were to arise, how he’d go about fixing it.
“So, that’s all he can really do at this point: practice and get better. He’s done everything we’re asking of him right now. So, in terms of when he gets in the game, you know, we’ll see. I’m not gonna speak for anybody else, but I like the way he’s worked and preparing, and the progress he’s making.”
Zappe said he’s “learned a lot” from the 36-year-old Hoyer, who’s in his 14th NFL season and third stint with New England.
“I ask him a lot of questions, whether it’s about defenses, offenses, old players, about what he would do in this situation,” Zappe said. “Just kind of picking his brain. He’s been around for 14, 15 years, so that’s a really good source for me to talk to. He’s been really open to me about asking those questions, and he’s given me a lot of great feedback.”
It’s unclear how willing the Patriots would be to turn to Zappe if Hoyer struggles on Sunday, but the veteran’s leash was short in his last starting opportunity. When Hoyer started in place of Cam Newton after the latter tested positive for COVID-19 early in the 2020 season, he was benched for Jarrett Stidham late in the third quarter after spoiling two Patriots scoring chances with red-zone mental errors.
Stidham was in his second pro season at the time and had made three garbage-time appearances the previous year, so he was a more experienced No. 2 than Zappe will be this week. Hoyer is winless in his last 11 starts, with his last victory coming exactly six years ago this Sunday.
The Patriots officially ruled out Jones, who’s dealing with a reported high ankle sprain, ahead of their trip to Green Bay. They also ruled out defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste and listed seven players as questionable.